Are you an apple or a pear?

Hortense from Jezebel has a hilarious post about one of my pet peeves-magazines that try and help you “dress for your shape.” I am so sick of being inundated with magazines that are supposed to help me look thinner or dress better, because you know, fat girls can’t wear sexy clothes, we must hide our bodies. A quick google search and I found plenty of links about how to figure out what shape your body is, so you can figure out what clothes to wear.
As Hortense points out it is difficult to have an exhaustive list of body sizes because we are all shaped differently and therefore, not only are most of the categories limiting and exclusive, they are often downright offensive.

Take, for example, this Glamour feature from last year, which breaks women’s body types into these categories: Tall, Busty, Petite, Boyish, Plus-Size, and Pear-Shaped. Which is all well and good, I suppose, unless you happen to be a Pear-Shaped Busty Tall Woman looking for ideas on Plus-Size gowns, because the advice for each category is markedly different, which would lead many women to believe that there are only certain aspects of their bodies that are truly worth addressing, as opposed to concentrating on what fits and feels good.
Also, as someone who generally falls into the “oh, dear, puberty forgot to deliver your boobs” category, I think it would be nice if fashion magazines could stop referring to thin women without many curves as “boyish.” Femininity comes in many shapes and sizes, thanks, and Glamour’s advice only reinforces the fact that they feel that flat-chested women need to blow up their bust lines to achieve sexiness: “Don’t have voluptuous curves? Fake ‘em!” Ah yes, because nothing makes me feel more confident than putting in my fake temporary boobs in order to wear a dress.

Read the whole post because at the end she gives some humorous advice on dressing for you shape. In any case, imagine headlines in women’s magazines that said, “feel beautiful no matter what!” or “you can rock it, yes you can!” I guess the whole industry that perpetuates women’s insecurity about their bodies and therefore marketing us products, tips, techniques and torture devices that will make us “feel better” would fall apart as we know it. All I know is I really don’t want my body to be compared to a piece of fruit.

Join the Conversation

  • Jessica

    I’d like to consider myself a broccolini-type of gal.

  • Janet75

    Hortense is far and above the very best thing about Jezebel. I don’t know why they don’t hire her full-time. Her posts are hilarious, timely, intelligent and really well-written. She is exactly what Jezebel is supposed to be.


    Would it be better to call your body “waifish” like Twiggy if you have no curves? The truth is, I don’t see anything wrong with the “boy-ish” label, BUT I can see how that would upset some females.

  • DorothyZbornak

    I could not agree more. She’s pretty much the only reason I ever go on there anymore.

  • Janet75

    Hortense is far and above the very best thing about Jezebel. I don’t know why they don’t hire her full-time. Her posts are hilarious, timely, intelligent and really well-written. She is exactly what Jezebel is supposed to be.

  • Ariel

    I would call myself a carrot-shape.

  • Ann

    I know this is antithetical to the point of Samhita’s post, but I kind of like this game.
    I declare myself a zucchini. Or maybe a leek. (Ok, now I am just naming foods I like to eat…)

  • jjgirl23
  • JemimaAslana

    I’m an onion… I make people cry :D
    Ahem, she’s so right. I know all those different types of advice. If you have short legs, wear high-waisted pants to make them look longer, and if you have a big butt, wear low-waisted pants to make it look smaller… well, what if you have both? Like me? If you have short legs, wear tight pants to make them look longer, if you have fat thighs, wear loose pants to cover up that fact… well, I have both – again.

  • Jessica F.

    This has always annoyed me. First it was that magazines split ALL women into either “apple” or “pear”, neither of which are accurate descriptive labels for myself and many other women. But really, no matter how many cute produce-named labels they make up, they’re never going to have enough little categories to give every woman an image of herself.
    I am also bothered by the tone of the advice given to women regarding what to wear. I think we can all agree that certain clothes look good on us and certain clothes don’t. And after awhile, we get a sense of what will specifically look good on us and make us feel good. It’s handy, when surveying a clothing store, to be able to pick things that may work before trying them on. But it doesn’t mean that what actually looks good is what “hides our flaws” or “fakes [feature we don't have but MUST HAVE to be able to leave the house without shame]“.
    These sorts of articles dress themselves up (haha) as a celebration of women’s differences, but all they’re doing is trying to make women add or hide features so we can all look the same.

  • JPlum

    I’ve been thinking about wearing one of those plastic headbands with the long springs sticking out and bobbles on the ends (I have one with pink disco balls). My goal is to distract people from my unsightly Rack of Doom. Think it will work? Or would I do better with really extravagant earrings?

  • BackOfBusEleven

    The problem with these defined shapes is that most women have distorted views about their bodies. In reality, nobody has the same body. Most women probably don’t fit in any of these shapes (I know I don’t), so this only creates more confusion about one’s body. It also forces women to focus on certain areas of the body and exaggerate them. Those parts that we’re supposed to be focusing on when we’re trying to find our shape are usually ones that we’re supposed to hate the most, when it’s healthier to focus on the parts that you like. Is your ass gigantic in comparison to your breasts? Yes, that’s the kind of idea I want planted in my head! Knowing what clothes look good on your body starts with having a realistic and positive body image. It’s difficult, but it’s necessary.

  • Hannah

    These types of body categories are also very popular in teen magazines. I was a long-time Seventeen reader and they did the same thing. I’m definitely one of those young women who fits into many different body types (curvy bottom and thighs, flat chested, tiny midsection). It’s very problematic to ask girls and young women especially to put themselves into a specific mold–it’s teaching us young that we have to be one thing or another, and never our own individual selves. The reason I kept reading Seventeen was because they would sometimes frame it in a different way, like how to play up your favorite feature (athletic arms, curvy bottom, long legs, etc) which is something accessible for a lot of different people and doesn’t make you identify with a fruit.

  • Transcend

    My friends and I always laugh about the Vogue “Shape” issue which always inevitably categorizes the woman’s body into helpful boxes like “athletic” and “tall” and… it isn’t generally much help.
    But I also am curious as to what is the alternative? As a male, I am frustrated by how difficult it is to get any fashion advice that might be even remotely body-specific. (all guys need to wear fitted suits, darker ties than their shirts, yeah thanks GQ)
    Is it the categories themselves or merely the inadequate and ideal-relative versions of these categories that most offend? and if the latter, what might be a (non-satirical) alternative? I’m curious in other people’s thoughts.

  • Catherine

    Toothpaste for Dinner had a fabulous comic about this:

  • Appetite for Equal Rights

    I just LOVE how their model for “plus-sized” is Christina Hendricks, who looks to be maybe a size 8. I really wish fashion mags would stop trying to deny that THE AVERAGE AMERICAN WOMAN IS A SIZE 14.

  • taalibba

    What’s with the Glamour hate?! No, they’re not Ms. or Bitch, but they are a helluva lot more feminist than most mainstream women’s mags that cover fashion, like the boy crazy Cosmo or the oblivious Vogue (um, yeah that $200 dollar Coach bag, not a ‘Steal’) Glamour may still think I want new diet tips every month, but they’ve also been known to do hard hitting investigative reporting on women’s rights and health issues and praise cool heroic women all the time. They’ve covered the recession very well, did a wonderful article on the subprime mortgage crisis disproportionately affectng single women. Plus, the magazine actually identified itself as feminist. We could do alot worse for a best selling magazine in the mainstream.

  • ShifterCat

    The advice itself isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just the way it’s framed. Instead of trying to fit all women into “type” categories, they’d be better off categorizing the fashions themselves — “this make of dress creates this effect” — and then encouraging people to find their own style.
    It’s a bit like art-instruction books. Some will say, “You should draw your heroine like this“, while others will say, “using these techniques will produce this effect, using those techniques will produce that effect; and don’t be afraid to experiment”.

  • rebeckery

    seriously, PRAISE THE LORD, I’m so glad somebody finally wrote something criticising the whole ~~dress for your shape~~ tyranny. The wikipedia article on “female body shape” (I know) buys into the repellent 4-fruit typology 100%, too:

  • Lydia Encyclopedia

    Couldn’t help but notice that in that wikipedia article (Knowing the nature of a wiki, it may be different next time I look) all the examples of female bodies they used were rather antique, Western representations of idealized female bodies. Can’t modern women or women of colour be used as an example too? It seems problematic in my opinion.
    As for me, I am a rhubarb.

  • feministinthecold

    These features are hilarious because no matter what category you are in, you are always encouraged to dress to make yourself look like another category: “boyish” women are supposed to emphasize their cleavage, but “curvy” women are supposed to downplay their cleavage, and so on.

  • jele

    Yes, rolling my eyes I clicked on your link. Really? Wikipedia has an article on “female body shape?” Of course they do! Curious, I wanted to compare it to their article on male body shape.
    Sorry that I don’t know how to embed the link. In case my attempt doesn’t work, I’ll end the suspense for you. There is no Wikipedia article on male body shape. Gosh, I’m so shocked.

  • Medusa

    “Which is all well and good, I suppose, unless you happen to be a Pear-Shaped Busty Tall Woman looking for ideas on Plus-Size gowns.”
    This is impossible. A pear shape, by definition, is not busty. If you have a big bust and big hips, that makes you an hourglass, which is not who they’re giving advice to if they’re giving advice to a pear shape.
    And, it’s true. Different body shapes are flattered by different types of clothing. That said, I think Glamour has gone downhill significantly in the past 2 years. Was there a management change or something?


    Most men’s clothes are nonsexual – they conceal body shape.
    Compare men’s jeans to women’s jeans, or a man’s business suit to a woman’s suit.
    For a dramatic example of the latter, pick a spot where you can observe a lot of white collar workers at one time (if you’re in the New York area, try Grand Central Terminal, Port Authority or Penn Station between 7 and 10 AM)
    Notice that you cannot tell anything about a man’s body from looking at his clothes – unless he’s unusually tall, or unusually short, or unusually fat or unusually thin.
    Even then, men’s “figure flaws” are CONCEALED by our clothes, and in general the male body is desexualized.
    Now, look at the women – you can clearly see the shape of the woman’s body in all but the baggiest of outfits – and many women’s business suits expose the upper portion of women’s breasts (or the entire breast – covered by a bra, of course – in the case of sheer blouses) and many outfits also expose much of the woman’s leg.
    Almost all women’s clothing is sexualized in a way that men’s clothes simply are not – women are always on display.
    Men’s clothes are practical, workmanlike, not for ornament, and certainly not to put a man’s sexuality on display.
    You will NEVER see a male CEO’s chest or bare legs, or even bare arms!
    But with female CEO’s you’ll often see a whole lot of skin.
    Basically, men’s clothes aren’t supposed to be fasihonable! They are supposed to present us as the default generic members of the community – while women’s clothes single them out as the “other” gender.

  • Transcend

    Oh, I totally agree, Greg. If you read an article like Malcolm Gladwell’s “Listening to Khakis,” it becomes clear that male fashion isn’t really about the male body at all. It’s a “uniform.” Nevertheless, I think (and hope) that the “metrosexual” bent male fashion is taking might liberate us from the cookie-cutter way of treating all male bodies as exactly the same.
    Do we want an annual “Shape” issue of GQ or Men’s Health? Maybe not. Which is why I’m interested in how we might find that balance between fashion advice that is too essentializing of body type and advice that fails to recognize body types at all…! (I think ShifterCat’s post below about cataloguing effects, rather than adjusting for “body types”, is a good start.)

  • buggie

    Hahaha that is fantastic. Personally, I have a bit of an apple, but my butt is pear!
    basically, I’m plus-sized petite boyish curvy papple.
    But may I just comment on how I hate the term “plus sized”? People actually use it to describe themselves: “I am a plus-sized girl” “she is a plus-sized model.” It’s so arbitrary and dumb. Nobody even knows what “plus-sized” means. Sometimes it’s a size bigger than 10, sometimes it’s 14+, sometimes it’s 16+, sometimes it’s a totally different fit- a while ago I wore a size 16, but a “16 plus” was totally different, and too big for me.
    And it’s the woman that are supposed to be advocating body acceptance that use the term! I hate that! You don’t let the Gap and Macys tell you what “normal sized” is and what “plus sized” is!

  • BodyPart

    Stay slim to save the planet
    Scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s department of epidemiology and population health say food production is a major contributor to global warming.
    The research team suggested that a lean population will consume almost 20 per cent less food than a population in which 40 per cent of people are obese.
    Transport-related emissions will also be lower if people are slim because it takes less energy to move them around.
    Dr Phil Edwards, one of the leaders of the study, said he thought people had a “responsibility to the climate”.
    “It’s about seeing that actually as a population by being a particular shape and by being a certain weight we have an impact on the climate,” The Scotsman quoted him, as saying.
    “It’s something that isn’t discussed widely, but not only is staying slim good for you but it’s also good for the planet,” he said.
    In the research paper, the authors highlighted that; people are becoming fatter, whether in Australia, Argentina, Belgium or Canada. And Edwards said the situation would be likely to become even worse because in developing countries many people are also beginning to eat more.
    He added: “When it comes to food consumption, moving about in a heavy body is like driving around in a gas guzzler. The heavier our bodies become the harder and more unpleasant it is to move about in them and the more dependent we become on our cars.”
    The study appears in the International Journal of Epidemiology.